3 places where S’poreans built up our local heritage

17/10/2023

Everyday sights and sounds on the street are a vital part of Singapore’s heritage; all that history needs to happen somewhere else before it gets memorialised in museums and galleries. 

Through the Our SG Heritage Plan 2.0, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong is continuing this legacy. He is spearheading how Singaporeans can take more co-ownership of all these histories going forward, preserving more memories for future generations. So in that spirit, this is how ordinary people previously made some of Singapore’s heritage icons and initiatives into what they are. 

Toa Payoh dragon playground: The community’s heritage 

Source: Roots.sg, Wanderfoolife/ Instagram 

These iconic playgrounds (along with similar ones shaped like elephants and pelicans) were central fixtures in neighbourhoods during the 1980s and 1990s. 

That was enough time for generations of children to spend afternoons scampering up their facades, crawling through their friendly, multicoloured length and sliding down their heads — then do it all over again. 

One such playground remains in Toa Payoh, giving this current generation of children a taste of the fun their dads and moms had. This dragon, reborn over time as a community landmark, is beloved: No wonder it is a choice place for locals when the times call for celebrations

As Minister Tong wrote in his foreword to the Plan, “Heritage sites and cultural events provide common spaces for all Singaporeans to come together.” 

Singapore River bridges: Longtime symbols of unity 

Source: Kapook2981 / Getty Images, Canva 

The trio of colonial-era bridges along the Singapore River — the Cavenagh, Elgin and the Anderson are well-trodden ones. In fact, the Anderson exists because the Cavenagh proved extraordinarily popular with pedestrians during the turn of the 20th century. 

These days, the Cavenagh has become Singapore’s “love bridge”. Couples use it for engagement proposals and on sunny days beaming brides-to-be pose there in their gowns for wedding shoots.

Rather similarly, the Elgin began as a simple wooden footbridge. By 1925, its first iron iteration was marked for rebuilding. It was sinking and regularly congested; it was a well-travelled link which united the Chinese people on the south side of the Singapore River to the Indian merchants on the north. 

The longstanding glad grassroots reception of these bridges is a fine fit, then, for this Heritage Plan’s vision of a heritage landscape which connects diverse Singaporeans across time, space and cultures. 

Neighbourhood tours: Communities and unity   

Source: Yip Yew Chong, National Archives of Singapore, Canva 

Community-driven tours around residential neighbourhoods like Kallang and Little India are one highlight of the iconic Singapore HeritageFest. Every year, neighbourhood residents and experts guide anyone interested around their local streets and lanes, proudly telling stories of how such-and-such a location was once famous for such-and-such a reason.  

Else, how would we know exactly the ways in which the Kallang Gasworks and its circular tanks once powered Singapore’s streets and exactly why the Kallang Airport was essentially the world-renowned Changi Airport of its time? 

“Our community is a significant building block under the new heritage plan. We aim to encourage greater co-ownership of our heritage with our community, so that all Singaporeans will feel more invested in promoting and celebrating our histories,” emphasised Minister Tong at the Patron of Heritage Awards earlier (Oct 9) this month.  

His statement is one which acknowledges the importance of placemaking from the ground up and from partnerships; these are directions that help foster trust and belonging. They are for us all building a better society for each other, and for a united Singapore going forward.